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State Regulators Ask For Extension On Gas Drilling Rules Over Fracking Concerns

Fracking Rig (file / credit: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Fracking Rig (file/credit: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

CBS New York (con't)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York State environmental regulators have asked for another three months to finalize new gas drilling rules so that a study of the health impacts of practices such as fracking can be completed, an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The deadline to finalize the regulations is Thursday, when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will seek a 90-day extension, including a public comment period, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.

The extra time would allow Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and three national experts to review the health effects of shale gas drilling and fracking – formally known as hydraulic fracturing, she said.

The state has had a moratorium on shale gas development since the DEC started an environmental impact study in 2008. Under state law, proposed new regulations stemming from that study expire on Thursday.

Health and environmental groups on Tuesday repeated their call for a comprehensive and independent health impact analysis before high-volume fracking is allowed in New York State. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens rejected that request in September, saying Shah would review DEC’s own health impact assessment with input from outside experts. The DEC’s health review has not been made public.

The experts, named less than two weeks ago, are John Adgate, chairman of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the Colorado School of Public Health; Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services; and Richard Jackson, chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles’ Fielding School of Public Health.

Goldman said a week ago that she hadn’t seen the state’s health assessment yet but that she was told to have her review of it finished by Dec. 3.

In fracking, which has been around for decades, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into wells to break up underground rock formations and create escape routes for the oil and gas. In recent years, the industry has learned to combine the practice with the ability to drill horizontally into beds of shale, layers of fine-grained rock that in some cases have trapped ancient organic matter that has cooked into oil and gas.

By doing so, drillers have unlocked natural gas deposits across the East, South and Midwest that are large enough to supply the U.S. for decades. Natural gas prices have dipped to decade-low levels, reducing customer bills and prompting manufacturers who depend on the fuel to expand operations in the U.S.

Yet environmental groups and other critics believe the chemicals have polluted drinking water supplies. In 2010, filmmaker Josh Fox documented serious concerns about fracking across the country in the documentary “Gasland,” after he was asked personally to lease his land for drilling.

Some of the most sensational images in “Gasland” show flames erupting around water running from a sink spigot in a Pennsylvania town near a fracking site, recalled CBS Chicago.

Regulators nonetheless contend that overall, water and air pollution problems related to fracking are rare, although environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough research on those issues.

On Tuesday, a group of health professionals led by David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, launched a new initiative on the health risks of shale gas development. They urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo not to commit to a 90-day extension but instead allow the proposed regulations to expire and draft new ones based on a comprehensive health impact assessment.

Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council said it would be a “monumental error” for DEC to file for a 90-day extension, which would require it to release revised proposed regulations within a couple of weeks, before any recommendations of the health experts could be incorporated. Instead, she said DEC should allow the regulations to expire and propose new ones after the health review is completed.

But Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said, “Given the Governor’s decision to conduct a health review on hydraulic fracturing, DEC’s move to extend by 90 days the implementation of regulations guiding this job-creating practice is a fair and appropriate step.”

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, which represents about 77,000 landowners seeking leases with gas drillers, said the announcement about a 90-day extension was cause for optimism that “an end is in sight to the over 4 1/2-year long regulatory process for high-volume hydraulic fracturing.”

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